The Banzai online simulator for finance is used in more than 50 West Michigan classrooms through a program sponsored by Community West Credit Union. Courtesy Banzai
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) If students learned early on the importance of allocating every dollar wisely, would they avoid the pitfalls of debt later in life? A local credit union is sponsoring a program it believes answers that question.
Kentwood-based Community West Credit Union is footing the bill to provide access to Banzai — an online financial education platform that takes students through various scenarios to help them learn how to budget — for 51 schools in the area around its five West Michigan branches, including Kentwood, Grandville, Hudsonville, Middleville and Rockford.
Community West is one of hundreds of credit unions and banks across the U.S. that support more than 30,000 teachers who have opted to use Banzai either to supplement or replace their personal finance curriculum.
Currently, 94 teachers from Thornapple Kellogg, Caledonia, East Kentwood, Hudsonville, Grandville, Jenison, Rockford and Rockford Christian schools, as well as a National Heritage Academies charter, are using the tool in their classrooms.
Lisa Boyd, marketing manager at Community West, said the credit union views partnering with the community, especially the schools, as a “logical” choice.
“We definitely have a passion for ensuring financial literacy, and it only makes sense to start with children,” she said.
Community West made the decision to sponsor Banzai access in 2010 before Boyd was hired. While she said the credit union does not disclose the cost of the program, its budget allows for each of the 51 eligible middle and high schools to sign up before the sponsorship cap is maxed out.
Boyd said she sees the program as a way to reach students “with solid information about conducting their lives in a way that will benefit them in the future, at a moment in time when they’re most impressionable.”
“If we could only talk to more kids early on about student lending and looking at how devastating excessive debt can be to managing your life post-college, that would be an interesting conversation to start with kids,” she said.
Amy Broekhuizen, an instructor at East Kentwood High School who teaches a class called “College and Career Readiness,” said she opted to use the Banzai platform when she found out about it two years ago.
In that time, she has had 90 students complete the program and has another 60 students who will go through it this year.
She said it works as a simulation, and students go through each scenario on their own using a personalized code to log in.
“It teaches the students the understanding that they cannot just spend their money on whatever they want,” she said. “Students must allocate every dollar before they actually spend it. They need to realize that there are different categories for their money — saving, spending, emergencies — and that at each time you receive your paycheck, you need to visualize where every dollar is going to go (gas, rent, food, entertainment, clothing, utilities, emergencies).”
Broekhuizen said the Banzai financial literacy program addresses just one of many topics in her “College and Career Readiness” course, and it does not replace a separate “Personal Finance” class East Kentwood offers for students to fulfill their fourth-year math requirement.
“We chose not to use the program in that course because we go into a lot more detail on setting up spending plans in ‘Personal Finance,’” she said. “We decided to use the (Banzai) program in ‘College and Career Readiness’ because it is a short enough program to give high school seniors an idea of categorizing their money when they are off living on their own next year.”
She said teachers can set their own goals for how fast to go through the material, but she generally wraps it up in a week. Students can work at their own pace to finish each module within the program. They are assessed on their knowledge at the beginning and again at the end.
“This is a great introductory tool for teachers who are not teaching a full personal finance course, and it can also serve as a great assessment to see if students gained the knowledge from the teacher and lesson,” Broekhuizen said.